The Adventures of the Son of Bad Counsel (2)

Fair was the daughter of the Gruagach, but she was to be won with risk of life; and a shivering seized on the limbs of the young man, and his teeth chattered. The master seemed to know that trouble had come on his spirit, and be asked his wife to bring in the golden, gem-incrusted goblet of comfort and forgetfulness. It was brought, and this was the quality of that goblet, that every one drinking from it should forget their cares and troubles as if they had never been; and if a thousand persons drank their fill from it, never was the wine a hair's breadth lower.

Mac drank, and great courage came into his heart. "Deep is my gratitude to you, O powerful chief," said he; "and I would be glad to know your name, and the name of the Bhan Tiernach (Woman-chief), your wife, and how your castle is called." "Gruagach Tiré gan Taithige (Giant [6] of the Unfrequented Land) is my name," said he, "and my wife is daughter of the King of the Lonesome Land, and Dun Tochluaiste (Uncertain Castle) is the name of this castle; and it is as easy for me to be at the end of Erinn at any hour as to be here."

Then the master of the house and his guest sat down at Taibleish Mhor (backgammon, large table), and the fashion of the tables was this. Fine elephant (ivory) were the dice, and fine carved wood, and emerald, and gold, and white silver, and carbuncle were the tables; and a blind man could see to play with them, and people with their sight could play with them on the darkest night. But if the body of the Mac na, &c. was at the table with the Gruagach, his "intellect, his desire, his sight, and his reason, were at the other side of the hall, where sat the Gruagach's daughter, with her golden curling hair and her silken robe."

So the unfortunate youth lost the game, but the Gruagach made him a present of the tables that he might learn to play. Very grateful was he, but he feared he should pay for all to-morrow before Din Aoilig. Then came supper time, and the youth sat opposite the magician, with the fair beauty on his right hand, and better food or better liquor was not consumed that night at Tara of the Kings.

But when the time of rest was come, and the Gruagach bade the Mac, &c. sleep soundly, as the flight of night was to see them on their way to Aoilig, "great fear, and discomfort, and hate, and loathing," fell on the heart of the Son of Bad Counsel, and said he to himself, "I wish I had the dressed skin of a white sheep, that I might leave my last thoughts to my friends."

"Long it is to tell how I first saw the maid.
When she came in my sight I lit up full of her love.
My heart is sad that I see no more her fair face,
Her neck like the snow, and her bosom like two fair hills;
And by the king's hand I'm sorry she is not mine."

Then they prepared his state bed, and the Gruagach and his wife went to their own apartment, after first giving him a token of life and health (wishing him goodnight). He was thinking more of the morning than the night; but the maid of the flowing hair, and the mild gray eyes, and the sweet smile, told him not to fear for his life, for that it was not in the power of all the fairy hosts within the four seas of Erinn to bring the end of life on him that had received baptism. They might pierce him with sighe-darts that would disable arm or leg, or cause him to pine, but perhaps they would not. And she also "gave him a token of life and health," and went to her couch in the next chamber.

Bad it was to lose life and the maid of the silk robe together, and but little better was it to be stretched on rushes with sighe-darts in the leg. So the Son of Bad Counsel, while lying on the wolf-skin, felt a shivering all over him, and then all the blood in his body rushed up to his head, and his skin seemed on fire, and at last despair put it into his mind to persuade the lady that had won his heart to fly with him where neither Gruagach, nor Heavy Magic Fog, nor Ruan Luimneach, King of all the Fairies of the West, could find them out. So he arose, with his heart in his mouth, and his legs trembling under him: he opened her door, and he found himself in a wild lonesome place, and then he knew that it was Aimsighthe and Aimgeoireachd (qu. ambushes and temptations) were on him; and he heard the bonanaich and the boconaigh (qu. wild boars or wild bulls, and he-goats), and the other forest dwellers, hideous, terrible, loud-voiced, sharp, inflamed. And he became like a madman, and he flew like a wild cat from its nest in the tree, or a stag from his lair. And when he cleared the wood he found himself in a plain, wide-spread and grassy, and in the middle a high green hill, where neither boars nor goats could easily catch him.

When he was on the hill he found a great rim round its summit, and within, a boiling, boisterous, noisy, foamy, very tempestuous sea, with no path round it. By the harbour was an old boat, which the unfortunate, ill-advised youth strove to repair; but hearing the wild piercing cries of the beasts or devils of the woods at his back, he put to sea. This was all that the fierce, incessant, spiteful, threatening, very destructive winds waited for. They blew as if to scoop out the sea from its hollow, and the earth belched out from its caverns the restless waters. The boatman flying up to the clouds at this side of the wave, and descending into the dark caverns of the earth on the other, bellowed to heaven for help; and the Gruagach, hearing the outcry, bade his daughter light a candle!

In the cellar they found the son of ill-luck as well as of ill-counsel, seated on a cullender that was covering a vat of strongly-working new beer. These were the high-rimmed mound and the sea. The roaring of the he-goats, the boars, and the bulls, and the wolves, was the cry of two cats which the sleep-walker had disturbed, and the howling of the storm, a breeze blowing through the cellar window.


[6] Gruagach has for root, Gruach, hair,—giants and magicians being usually furnished with a large provision of that appendage. A favourite song (even in its English dress) with the dying out generation, was the Bouchal na Gruaga Dhonna," The Boy with the Brown Hair."